Abstract Magazine International | Fiction of the Week: “Remembrance Day”
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Fiction of the Week: “Remembrance Day”

03 Dec 2016, Posted by admin in Fiction
About the Author:

W<J>P Newnham hitchhiked around Australia working as barman, bum and waiter; slaughter hand, deckhand and master, spending 25 years working in the Northern Prawn Fishery. He has travelled extensively in southeast Asia, the Americas and Japan and speaks market-place Indonesian with some fluency. He is the winner of the 2016 The Lifted Brow experimental non-fiction prize.


Remembrance Day

‘Left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh-an-an-an’1

They spoke all-night on the radio: these both bottom lip boys with a fish scale gloss from dragging it round like to have had tripped a bullocky: both bottom boats with tales of nets and crews and boat: up all night hauling the trawl-in’.

[You there   Vic?]                                                                                                                        

                                                   [Back to you Pack.]

[What’s goin’ with that cook of yours? Has she been talking about me? Back.]

[She’s right here Pack you can ask her her-self…..go on …….no…too shy! Back to you.]

[What’s she got on? Back.]

[….you tell him…..no? ..too shy?…she says gumboots, shorts and a top. Back 2 U.]

[Can ya see any g-banger? Back]

[..Turn around ….no?…..you got her blushing there Pack so at a guess? …I’d say yes. Back.]

[ Aaaahhhh! ……{KLAXON} ………… Hang on got another fucken alarm going off here fuck it.]

[Roger that. Catch U back later.]

The boats winch up and under sodium spot-lights they spill bags to trays and then re-tying the cod-ends and shooting away again as the crew begins to process the meagre catch. Dolphins and shark jockey for position at the shit-chute as by-catch returns to the ocean as feed. The try gear is winched up every twenty minutes or so to further return the verdict of a desert waste-land devoid of life or sign. They trawl down-tide in search of signs of life.   

[You  there   Vic?]                                                                                                         

[Back to you Pack.]

[Getting any sign of shrimp in your try-shots there? Back.]

[Nah. Last tries 5, 3, 4 all for 20 minutes. Sweet fuck all. Fucken dead as a maggot: haven’t called ‘em: nothing to call. Back  2 U.]

[Yeah roger that…..same same….dead as a fucken maggot. Back.]

They check to see what’s been rattling round the ridges and sneak in and out of favoured honey-holes from years gone past: they survey across the depths and into the shallows, around rocks and between reefs as the night drags on to morning. As tiredness and caffeine compete for dominance they yarn in monologues back-set by wheel-house stereos in relief of boredoms both professional and personal.


[[…………yeah ……….fuck fishing……..this is the last year for me……….I don’t know why I left mining to come  back to this shit-house………fucken’ driving them fucken Komatsu 785’s ………it’s too fucken easy you know…….12 hour days, that’s all: a twelve hour day and there’s you’re four-five hungy plus you got super and equal pay on for equal time off and you are fucken set like fucken concrete…………….cunts are fucken whinging about doin’ a 5 week swing; soft  cocks………I was talking to big Scotty and he reckons that there’d be double the work by the end of this year if the dollar holds out and quick as fuck I’m gonna be back earning big bucks for sweet fuck all…….{…..what?} yeah 20 tigers in that last try-shot for……….fuck didn’t put the timer on…….. umm……3.1 nautical miles so call it rough/rough an hour; still the best try I’ve had all night…………{yeah stick it back down}…..might give that one a couple of laps and see if I can scratch sumthin up outa the mud……………any-thing’s got to better than dragging up and down on this shit…………fucken prices are up the shit and theres no fucken grubs and I’m just fucken over it! Back.]

Pack is rocking the ‘ÁNGELS2’ at volume:

“He Was Selling Postcards From A Paper Stand
A Whiskey Bottle In His Withered Hand.”

[back to you, back to you……………..talking to T-Bone the other day……fuckin’……he’s fuckin’ smashing it in the off-shore……pulling down like a hundred and fifty thou’ a year or something…….same sort a’ thing 5 on 5 off…….keep hitting him up to get me on but you gotta go down to Tassie for like 6 months for the integrated ratings course and it’s like  fifteen fucking grand to do the course………………..he reckons if you do the course someone’ll put you on to do the sea-time to validate the ticket. Fucked if I know; seems kind of a big ask for no real job certainty…….but same same I’m fucken well over this shit: over shit boats, over shit crews, over being at sea for eight months a year and twenty hour days and flogging the fuck outa me-self to make an earn……………..mum was right: I should’a stayed in school and become a banker or some such shit………………………….Fuck Fishing…………………..Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Fishermen!…………………….anyway……

Would’a, Could’a, Fuckin’ Should’a!…………………………

Hard Times and Shit Fucking Luck……………………………….Back To You]

Vic has the HF3 tuned to Radio Australia for the country hour with Hank and whippoorwill-

Attenuated and broken with static:

I’ve never seen a night so long
when time goes crawling by
the moon just went behind the clouds
to hide its face and cry4

The night drags on as wheelhouses haze out in a miasma of cigarettes smoked as the air-cons hum and cold air eddies and swirls in curlicues of exhausted tobacco.

[You  there   Vic?]                                                                                                        

[Back to you Pack.]

[I’m going to bed for a shot. Filthy’s gonna trudge up and down for a bit. Back.]

[Yeah back to you Pack. Same same. Catch you in a coupla.]

Piccaninny dawn begins to light the eastern sky and both skippers retire to their cabins leaving the trawl and the helm for their first mates to squint through sunglasses as the sun hauls itself over the horizon and up into the sky. The radio falls silent as the trawl grinds through to morning. Several hours later the boats winch up and in the bright morning sun they spill bags to trays and then as the nets are streamed the crew begins to process the meagre catch. Dolphins and shark jockey for position at the shit-chute as by-catch returns to the ocean as feed. Screeching seabirds circle and dive and wheel at fish washed from the nets.

[You there Vic?]                                                                                                                                      

[Back to you Pack.]

[What are you doing; you gunna do another night here or what? Back.]

[Back to me. I don’t want to but …yeah I don’t know probably gonna have to; I’ve gotta pull up and fix my fucken stabilizers before they fall off. Ones just hanging on the safety chain so the others due to go …..so yeah..drop the pick and stick another one in around here. There’s half a sign for the morning shot anyway soooooooooooooo yep. Back to you.]

[Yeah same same Vic ………got more for the morning shot that for the rest of the fuckin night. Hey how you off for ciggies? I been re-rolling me ashtray for two days.Back.]

[No wukkas Pack. Probably got….. maybe ½ a carton spare here. Back to you.]

[Un-fucking-real. I’ll chuck a rope on you when you drop the pick.]

The boats cease streaming the gear and stop; lifting their nets up into the rigging they resemble winged creatures.  As one vessel lets go its anchor the other manoeuvres gently to abaft the anchored vessels stern allowing a line to be made fast from one to another. Deck-hands and mates and engineers and cooks hurry about their daily chores in anticipation: nets are cleaned and mended, stabilizers are swung in-board and repaired and galleys are restored to order from the mess of the morning meal. Vic climbs his stern gantry and as Pack nudges his vessel forward he clambers up onto the bow and aboard with ½ a carton of cigarettes tied tight in a plastic bag. Nudging his vessel astern and coming to rest upon the line Pack leaves his wheelhouse and swaps Vic’s cigarettes for a cold beer.

‘It’d be fucken un-Australian not to have a beer on Remembrance Day.’

‘Is that today?’

‘Eleventh of the eleventh. Yep.’

‘Time flies when you’re having……well what-ever.’

‘What are you hearing from round the traps?’

‘Probably the same as you.’

‘Yeah well fuckin phones and all…….big maggot patch going off south of the island’

‘That’s the one……spoke to the Guru this morning and AFMA is gonna shut it down tomorrow night….nah to-night. Fucking maggot bashers have been raping fuck out of it….coupla tonne a night I heard……if you like catching fucking 21/30s.’

‘If it weighs it pays……..you want another?’

‘Yeah…..why not.’



‘What are your crew doing? They coming over for a drink?’

‘Nahhhh. They haven’t got any grog left. And fuck ‘em anyway.’

‘We’ve got plenty of piss and I wanna have a crack at your cook so whatt’ya reckon?’

‘Up to you Pack….got any cones?’

‘I don’t smoke the shit.’

‘Well if you can scare some up from your crew you might be on a winner’.

‘She like a choof does she?’

‘Can’t fucken cook so I suppose everyone’s gotta have some kinda talent?’

‘Hang on…….hey Filthy!……FILTHY!!!!!………..’

Finishing their allotted tasks both crews convene in dribs and drabs till both crews are aggregate in the process area on Packs boat. Starved for social contact they mingle like old friends though few have met before. Beer flows and a bong makes the rounds whilst t-shirts proclaim loudly that ‘THE LIVER IS EVIL AND MUST BE PUNISHED’ and ‘JIM BEAM’ and ‘BINTANG’ and ‘PRAWN-O-GRAPHIC’ as the back-deck stereo thumps and this assembly of the socially maladjusted is in session.

Stereo [forte]:

“Shoot To Thrill, Play To Kill  Too Many Women With Too Many Pills Shoot To Thrill, Play To Kill I Got My Gun At The Ready, going to Fire At Will”5

The crew shout back and forth too each other above the thumping speakers. They communicate within station with engineers seeking each other out to holler on engines:

Services, Filters, Gearbox Oil Change, Hydraulic Compression Units, Fuel

Deck hands congregate shouting plans to the long awaited endo-of-season bacchanal: all cashed up the boys are going to hit the town:










The cooks move into the galley where the volume is less. They too discuss plans

Facials, Pedicures and Penthouses. Manicures Make-Up and Hair Extensions. Shopping: Pingers and Whizz, Dresses and Shoes, Jewellery and Leg Waxing….

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month passes un-remarked as deck-hands climb to the top of the rigging to dive bomb passing reef sharks as fresh cartons of beer are chilled in minutes in the blast freeze coils and Filthy is chopping up yet another mix lest; an air of hilarity: the deck-hands hand over hand up stabilizer chains and climbing up to the top of the rigging dive bombing passing reef sharks.

    Pack says;

‘Come over here’

Vic follows him around the trays where at the stern quarter scuppers Pack pulls out his cock and starts pissing.

Pack looks back over his shoulder and asks:

‘Reckon I’ve Got a Crack with Your Cook?’

‘I Reckon You Would Fuckin’ Crack Her With That Thing Pack.’

‘Ball-Gazer!…… Whattya Reckon?’

‘Up To You………But No Means No Pack!’


Ablutions completed they yarn on back in the day as scabby-leggers and tucker-deckies: on skippers and vessels and mutual crews and all the cooks they’d ever fucked.

‘Remember the Flange?’

‘Bet You Do!…..Every Time She’d Be Up On The Tray  Shovelling In Her Jocks And Titty Top You’d Be Off To The Dunny Crouched Over.’

‘Haaaaaaaaa…..Them Little Titties swinging In And Out….Fuck Yeah.’

‘ I Shared A Cabin With Her A Coupla Years Later And  She Used To Sleep Under A Doona In Just A G-Banger So When I Was On Watch At Night I Used To Turn The Air-Con Off Twenty Minutes Before Me Watch Finished  And She’d Have Kicked Her Doona Off  And I’d Rub One Out On The Top Bunk’.

‘……I Would’a Just Launched Me Self onto That….’

They shape up and shadow-boxing spar till the blows start to land for real and they  argue that those punches couldn’t have been thrown as each-other had already been knocked out as they hug it out and arms over each-other’s shoulders re-join the round for beers and bongs. Vic introduces his Number-1-Boy;

‘….. So I Did The Set In JBG With No Mate And After 3 Days I Was So Fuckin’ Tired I Was Nodding Off Whilst Shooting Away ……

So I Got Him Up

Showed Him How to Shoot Away and Winch Up

The First Shot He Ever Drives,

Flogging Up And Down My Line?

A Good Couple Tonnes…’

Pack puts his arm around the young decky’s shoulders and locks him into a head-locked and musses his hair as Vic tells him;

‘Not Worth It Young Fella……

You’ll Just Get Hurt…..

He’ll Let You Go.’

A glowering Number-1-Boy plays dead and Pack, bored with an un-struggling prey, releases him and searching out fresh bait with a nod and a wink and a whisper he leads Vic’s cook to his wheel-house. They return after an interval with both sniffing and  with her hurt look an accusation merry old sol passes his zenith and the day is measured out in stubbies and bongs as the back deck stereo thumps and the assemblage continues.  

Stereo {Fortissimo}

Some fool tried to hold me down
I got drunk and I ripped up the town
I’m a bad boy…a bad boy for love6


Mid-afternoon and as the tide changes a squall picks up from the south-east and as the boats jostle and bang about the mooring gives way with a loud snap and they are cast a-drift, being pushed against wind and tide as engineers scurry and main engines are started and Pack extricates his boats away from danger with no real damage done.

Pack says:

‘Fuck! Me!….that was close!’

‘Jesus…….glad I wore me brown jocks’.

‘Call your crew and I’ll bow up to your stern gantry.’

‘Nah fuck that Pack…..

They’re all pissed as rats:

it‘s as sloppy as shit

Nudge up close on the lee quarter

Abaft the beam

We’ll jump and swim ’.

Vic assembles his crew on the bow and sends his engineer over first to leap and swim and hand-over-hand up the stabilizer chain and up onto the boom and down to the back-deck where he secures a tire on rope to the gunnels and hangs it over-board for a ladder.

Thumbs up and Number-1-Boy leaps and swims and up the stabilizer chain and up onto the boom and down to the back-deck.

The cook is next and as the manoeuvring boat pitches and rolls in the slop she is scared and will not jump till Vic tells her that her only other option is to spend the night on Packs boat at which she grabs her nose and blindly leaps and swims and is assisted from the tire to safety.

Vic gives Pack the thumbs up and leaps; swimming against the tide to the tire and clambering aboard. He gives pack the thumbs up and staggers off to catch some kip in the short hours left until shoot-away.

Manoeuvring finished Pack’s boat drifts away as he comes out onto the bow to ogle Vic’s cook in her wet-wear as Number-1-Boy shouts up from the back-deck:


Before running and taking shelter in the covered process area as Pack returns and with Filthy manoeuvring at the helm whilst he commences an aerial bombardment with eggs and tested shackles in repudiation.


Both boats make a late start as skippers sleep in and neither shoots away before twenty hundred where first mates are put to the helm into the early hours of the morning with radios silent till;


[You there   Vic?]

[Back to you Pack.]

They spoke all night on the radio………..


¹“Khe Sanh” Cold Chisel
²Take a long line-The Angels
³High Frequency Radio
4Hank Williams “So Lonesome I Could Die”
5AC/DC “Shoot to thrill”
6Rose Tattoo “Bad Boy for Love”


AUTHOR: W<J>P Newnham

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